Part 6 out of 8
Wilcox hates being asked favours: all business men do. But
I am going to ask him, at the risk of a rebuff, because I
want to make things a little better."
"Very well. I promise. You take it very calmly. "
"Take them off to the George, then, and I'll try. Poor
creatures! but they look tried." As they parted, she
added: "I haven't nearly done with you, though, Helen. You
have been most self-indulgent. I can't get over it. You
have less restraint rather than more as you grow older.
Think it over and alter yourself, or we shan't have happy lives."
She rejoined Henry. Fortunately he had been sitting
down: these physical matters were important. "Was it
townees?" he asked, greeting her with a pleasant smile.
"You'll never believe me," said Margaret, sitting down
beside him. "It's all right now, but it was my sister."
"Helen here?" he cried, preparing to rise. "But she
refused the invitation. I thought she despised weddings."
"Don't get up. She has not come to the wedding. I've
bundled her off to the George."
Inherently hospitable, he protested.
"No; she has two of her proteges with her, and must keep
"Let 'em all come."
"My dear Henry, did you see them?"
"I did catch sight of a brown bunch of a woman, certainly.
"The brown bunch was Helen, but did you catch sight of a
sea-green and salmon bunch?"
"What! are they out beanfeasting?"
"No; business. They wanted to see me, and later on I
want to talk to you about them."
She was ashamed of her own diplomacy. In dealing with a
Wilcox, how tempting it was to lapse from comradeship, and
to give him the kind of woman that he desired! Henry took
the hint at once, and said: "Why later on? Tell me now. No
time like the present."
"If it isn't a long story."
"Oh, not five minutes; but there's a sting at the end of
it, for I want you to find the man some work in your office."
"What are his qualifications?"
"I don't know. He's a clerk."
"What's his name?"
"Bast," said Margaret, and was about to remind him that
they had met at Wickham Place, but stopped herself. It had
not been a successful meeting.
"Where was he before?"
"Why did he leave?" he asked, still remembering nothing.
"They reduced their staff."
"All right; I'll see him."
It was the reward of her tact and devotion through the
day. Now she understood why some women prefer influence to
rights. Mrs. Plynlimmon, when condemning suffragettes, had
said: "The woman who can't influence her husband to vote the
way she wants ought to be ashamed of herself." Margaret had
winced, but she was influencing Henry now, and though
pleased at her little victory, she knew that she had won it
by the methods of the harem.
"I should be glad if you took him," she said, "but I
don't know whether he's qualified."
"I'll do what I can. But, Margaret, this mustn't be
taken as a precedent."
"No, of course--of course--"
"I can't fit in your proteges every day. Business would
"I can promise you he's the last. He--he's rather a
"Proteges always are."
She let it stand at that. He rose with a little extra
touch of complacency, and held out his hand to help her up.
How wide the gulf between Henry as he was and Henry as Helen
thought he ought to be! And she herself--hovering as usual
between the two, now accepting men as they are, now yearning
with her sister for Truth. Love and Truth--their warfare
seems eternal. Perhaps the whole visible world rests on it,
and if they were one, life itself, like the spirits when
Prospero was reconciled to his brother, might vanish into
air, into thin air.
"Your protege has made us late," said he. "The Fussells
will just be starting."
On the whole she sided with men as they are. Henry
would save the Basts as he had saved Howards End, while
Helen and her friends were discussing the ethics of
salvation. His was a slap-dash method, but the world has
been built slap-dash, and the beauty of mountain and river
and sunset may be but the varnish with which the unskilled
artificer hides his joins. Oniton, like herself, was
imperfect. Its apple-trees were stunted, its castle
ruinous. It, too, had suffered in the border warfare
between the Anglo Saxon and the Kelt, between things as they
are and as they ought to be. Once more the west was
retreating, once again the orderly stars were dotting the
eastern sky. There is certainly no rest for us on the
earth. But there is happiness, and as Margaret descended
the mound on her lover's arm, she felt that she was having
To her annoyance, Mrs. Bast was still in the garden; the
husband and Helen had left her there to finish her meal
while they went to engage rooms. Margaret found this woman
repellent. She had felt, when shaking her hand, an
overpowering shame. She remembered the motive of her call
at Wickham Place, and smelt again odours from the
abyss--odours the more disturbing because they were
involuntary. For there was no malice in Jacky. There she
sat, a piece of cake in one hand, an empty champagne glass
in the other, doing no harm to anybody.
"She's overtired," Margaret whispered.
"She's something else," said Henry. "This won't do. I
can't have her in my garden in this state."
"Is she--" Margaret hesitated to add "drunk." Now that
she was going to marry him, he had grown particular. He
discountenanced risque conversations now.
Henry went up to the woman. She raised her face, which
gleamed in the twilight like a puff-ball.
"Madam, you will be more comfortable at the hotel," he
Jacky replied: "If it isn't Hen!"
"Ne crois pas que le mari lui ressemble," apologized
Margaret. "Il est tout a fait different."
"Henry!" she repeated, quite distinctly.
Mr. Wilcox was much annoyed. "I can't congratulate you
on your proteges," he remarked.
"Hen, don't go. You do love me, dear, don't you?"
"Bless us, what a person!" sighed Margaret, gathering up
Jacky pointed with her cake. "You're a nice boy, you
are." She yawned. "There now, I love you."
"Henry, I am awfully sorry."
"And pray why?" he asked, and looked at her so sternly
that she feared he was ill. He seemed more scandalized than
the facts demanded.
"To have brought this down on you."
"Pray don't apologize."
The voice continued.
"Why does she call you 'Hen'?" said Margaret
innocently. "Has she ever seen you before?"
"Seen Hen before!" said Jacky. "Who hasn't seen Hen?
He's serving you like me, my dear. These boys! You
wait--Still we love 'em."
"Are you now satisfied?" Henry asked.
Margaret began to grow frightened. "I don't know what
it is all about," she said. "Let's come in."
But he thought she was acting. He thought he was
trapped. He saw his whole life crumbling. "Don't you
indeed?" he said bitingly. "I do. Allow me to congratulate
you on the success of your plan."
"This is Helen's plan, not mine."
"I now understand your interest in the Basts. Very well
thought out. I am amused at your caution, Margaret. You
are quite right--it was necessary. I am a man, and have
lived a man's past. I have the honour to release you from
Still she could not understand. She knew of life's
seamy side as a theory; she could not grasp it as a fact.
More words from Jacky were necessary--words unequivocal, undenied.
"So that--" burst from her, and she went indoors. She
stopped herself from saying more.
"So what?" asked Colonel Fussell, who was getting ready
to start in the hall.
"We were saying--Henry and I were just having the
fiercest argument, my point being--" Seizing his fur coat
from a footman, she offered to help him on. He protested,
and there was a playful little scene.
"No, let me do that," said Henry, following.
"Thanks so much! You see--he has forgiven me!"
The Colonel said gallantly: "I don't expect there's much
He got into the car. The ladies followed him after an
interval. Maids, courier, and heavier luggage had been sent
on earlier by the branch--line. Still chattering, still
thanking their host and patronizing their future hostess,
the guests were home away.
Then Margaret continued: "So that woman has been your mistress?"
"You put it with your usual delicacy," he replied.
"Ten years ago."
She left him without a word. For it was not her
tragedy: it was Mrs. Wilcox's.
Helen began to wonder why she had spent a matter of eight
pounds in making some people ill and others angry. Now that
the wave of excitement was ebbing, and had left her, Mr.
Bast, and Mrs. Bast stranded for the night in a Shropshire
hotel, she asked herself what forces had made the wave
flow. At all events, no harm was done. Margaret would play
the game properly now, and though Helen disapproved of her
sister's methods, she knew that the Basts would benefit by
them in the long run.
"Mr. Wilcox is so illogical," she explained to Leonard,
who had put his wife to bed, and was sitting with her in the
empty coffee-room. "If we told him it was his duty to take
you on, he might refuse to do it. The fact is, he isn't
properly educated. I don't want to set you against him, but
you'll find him a trial."
"I can never thank you sufficiently, Miss Schlegel," was
all that Leonard felt equal to.
"I believe in personal responsibility. Don't you? And
in personal everything. I hate--I suppose I oughtn't to say
that--but the Wilcoxes are on the wrong tack surely. Or
perhaps it isn't their fault. Perhaps the little thing that
says 'I' is missing out of the middle of their heads, and
then it's a waste of time to blame them. There's a
nightmare of a theory that says a special race is being born
which will rule the rest of us in the future just because it
lacks the little thing that says 'I.' Had you heard that?"
"I get no time for reading."
"Had you thought it, then? That there are two kinds of
people--our kind, who live straight from the middle of their
heads, and the other kind who can't, because their heads
have no middle? They can't say 'I.' They AREN'T in fact,
and so they're supermen. Pierpont Morgan has never said 'I'
in his life."
Leonard roused himself. If his benefactress wanted
intellectual conversation, she must have it. She was more
important than his ruined past. "I never got on to
Nietzsche," he said. "But I always understood that those
supermen were rather what you may call egoists."
"Oh, no, that's wrong," replied Helen. "No superman
ever said 'I want,' because 'I want' must lead to the
question, 'Who am I?' and so to Pity and to Justice. He
only says 'want.' 'Want Europe,' if he's Napoleon; 'want
wives,' if he's Bluebeard; 'want Botticelli,' if he's
Pierpont Morgan. Never the 'I'; and if you could pierce
through him, you'd find panic and emptiness in the middle."
Leonard was silent for a moment. Then he said: "May I
take it, Miss Schlegel, that you and I are both the sort
that say 'I'?"
"And your sister too?"
"Of course," repeated Helen, a little sharply. She was
annoyed with Margaret, but did not want her discussed. "All
presentable people say 'I.'"
"But Mr. Wilcox--he is not perhaps--"
"I don't know that it's any good discussing Mr. Wilcox either."
"Quite so, quite so," he agreed. Helen asked herself
why she had snubbed him. Once or twice during the day she
had encouraged him to criticize, and then had pulled him up
short. Was she afraid of him presuming? If so, it was
disgusting of her.
But he was thinking the snub quite natural. Everything
she did was natural, and incapable of causing offence.
While the Miss Schlegels were together he had felt them
scarcely human--a sort of admonitory whirligig. But a Miss
Schlegel alone was different. She was in Helen's case
unmarried, in Margaret's about to be married, in neither
case an echo of her sister. A light had fallen at last into
this rich upper world, and he saw that it was full of men
and women, some of whom were more friendly to him than
others. Helen had become "his" Miss Schlegel, who scolded
him and corresponded with him, and had swept down yesterday
with grateful vehemence. Margaret, though not unkind, was
severe and remote. He would not presume to help her, for
instance. He had never liked her, and began to think that
his original impression was true, and that her sister did
not like her either. Helen was certainly lonely. She, who
gave away so much, was receiving too little. Leonard was
pleased to think that he could spare her vexation by holding
his tongue and concealing what he knew about Mr. Wilcox.
Jacky had announced her discovery when he fetched her from
the lawn. After the first shock, he did not mind for
himself. By now he had no illusions about his wife, and
this was only one new stain on the face of a love that had
never been pure. To keep perfection perfect, that should be
his ideal, if the future gave him time to have ideals.
Helen, and Margaret for Helen's sake, must not know.
Helen disconcerted him by fuming the conversation to his
wife. "Mrs. Bast--does she ever say 'I'?" she asked, half
mischievously, and then, "Is she very tired?"
"It's better she stops in her room," said Leonard.
"Shall I sit up with her?"
"No, thank you; she does not need company."
"Mr. Bast, what kind of woman is your wife?"
Leonard blushed up to his eyes.
"You ought to know my ways by now. Does that question
"No, oh no, Miss Schlegel, no."
"Because I love honesty. Don't pretend your marriage
has been a happy one. You and she can have nothing in common."
He did not deny it, but said shyly: "I suppose that's
pretty obvious; but Jacky never meant to do anybody any
harm. When things went wrong, or I heard things, I used to
think it was her fault, but, looking back, it's more mine.
I needn't have married her, but as I have I must stick to
her and keep her."
"How long have you been married?"
"Nearly three years."
"What did your people say?"
"They will not have anything to do with us. They had a
sort of family council when they heard I was married, and
cut us off altogether."
Helen began to pace up and down the room. "My good boy,
what a mess!" she said gently. "Who are your people?"
He could answer this. His parents, who were dead, had
been in trade; his sisters had married commercial
travellers; his brother was a lay-reader.
"And your grandparents?"
Leonard told her a secret that he had held shameful up
to now. "They were just nothing at all," he said,
"--agricultural labourers and that sort."
"So! From which part?"
"Lincolnshire mostly, but my mother's father--he, oddly
enough, came from these parts round here."
"From this very Shropshire. Yes, that is odd. My
mother's people were Lancashire. But why do your brother
and your sisters object to Mrs. Bast?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Excuse me, you do know. I am not a baby. I can bear
anything you tell me, and the more you tell the more I shall
be able to help. Have they heard anything against her?"
He was silent.
"I think I have guessed now," said Helen very gravely.
"I don't think so, Miss Schlegel; I hope not."
"We must be honest, even over these things. I have
guessed. I am frightfully, dreadfully sorry, but it does
not make the least difference to me. I shall feel just the
same to both of you. I blame, not your wife for these
things, but men."
Leonard left it at that--so long as she did not guess
the man. She stood at the window and slowly pulled up the
blinds. The hotel looked over a dark square. The mists had
begun. When she turned back to him her eyes were shining.
"Don't you worry," he pleaded. "I can't bear that. We
shall be all right if I get work. If I could only get
work--something regular to do. Then it wouldn't be so bad
again. I don't trouble after books as I used. I can
imagine that with regular work we should settle down again.
It stops one thinking. "
"Settle down to what?"
"Oh, just settle down."
"And that's to be life!" said Helen, with a catch in her
throat. "How can you, with all the beautiful things to see
and do--with music--with walking at night--"
"Walking is well enough when a man's in work," he
answered. "Oh, I did talk a lot of nonsense once, but
there's nothing like a bailiff in the house to drive it out
of you. When I saw him fingering my Ruskins and Stevensons,
I seemed to see life straight real, and it isn't a pretty
sight. My books are back again, thanks to you, but they'll
never be the same to me again, and I shan't ever again think
night in the woods is wonderful."
"Why not?" asked Helen, throwing up the window.
"Because I see one must have money."
"Well, you're wrong."
"I wish I was wrong, but--the clergyman--he has money of
his own, or else he's paid; the poet or the musician--just
the same; the tramp--he's no different. The tramp goes to
the workhouse in the end, and is paid for with other
people's money. Miss Schlegel, the real thing's money and
all the rest is a dream."
"You're still wrong. You've forgotten Death."
Leonard could not understand.
"If we lived for ever what you say would be true. But
we have to die, we have to leave life presently. Injustice
and greed would be the real thing if we lived for ever. As
it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is
coming. I love Death--not morbidly, but because He
explains. He shows me the emptiness of Money. Death and
Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life. Never mind
what lies behind Death, Mr. Bast, but be sure that the poet
and the musician and the tramp will be happier in it than
the man who has never learnt to say, 'I am I.'"
"We are all in a mist--I know but I can help you this
far--men like the Wilcoxes are deeper in the mist than any.
Sane, sound Englishmen! building up empires, levelling all
the world into what they call common sense. But mention
Death to them and they're offended, because Death's really
Imperial, and He cries out against them for ever."
"I am as afraid of Death as any one."
"But not of the idea of Death."
"But what is the difference?"
"Infinite difference," said Helen, more gravely than before.
Leonard looked at her wondering, and had the sense of
great things sweeping out of the shrouded night. But he
could not receive them, because his heart was still full of
little things. As the lost umbrella had spoilt the concert
at Queen's Hall, so the lost situation was obscuring the
diviner harmonies now. Death, Life and Materialism were
fine words, but would Mr. Wilcox take him on as a clerk?
Talk as one would, Mr. Wilcox was king of this world, the
superman, with his own morality, whose head remained in the clouds.
"I must be stupid," he said apologetically.
While to Helen the paradox became clearer and clearer.
"Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him." Behind
the coffins and the skeletons that stay the vulgar mind lies
something so immense that all that is great in us responds
to it. Men of the world may recoil from the charnel-house
that they will one day enter, but Love knows better. Death
is his foe, but his peer, and in their age-long struggle the
thews of Love have been strengthened, and his vision
cleared, until there is no one who can stand against him.
"So never give in," continued the girl, and restated
again and again the vague yet convincing plea that the
Invisible lodges against the Visible. Her excitement grew
as she tried to cut the rope that fastened Leonard to the
earth. Woven of bitter experience, it resisted her.
Presently the waitress entered and gave her a letter from
Margaret. Another note, addressed to Leonard, was inside.
They read them, listening to the murmurings of the river.
For many hours Margaret did nothing; then she controlled
herself, and wrote some letters. She was too bruised to
speak to Henry; she could pity him, and even determine to
marry him, but as yet all lay too deep in her heart for
speech. On the surface the sense of his degradation was too
strong. She could not command voice or look, and the gentle
words that she forced out through her pen seemed to proceed
from some other person.
"My dearest boy," she began, "this is not to part us.
It is everything or nothing, and I mean it to be nothing.
It happened long before we ever met, and even if it had
happened since, I should be writing the same, I hope. I do
But she crossed out "I do understand"; it struck a false
note. Henry could not bear to be understood. She also
crossed out, "It is everything or nothing. "Henry would
resent so strong a grasp of the situation. She must not
comment; comment is unfeminine.
"I think that'll about do," she thought.
Then the sense of his degradation choked her. Was he
worth all this bother? To have yielded to a woman of that
sort was everything, yes, it was, and she could not be his
wife. She tried to translate his temptation into her own
language, and her brain reeled. Men must be different, even
to want to yield to such a temptation. Her belief in
comradeship was stifled, and she saw life as from that glass
saloon on the Great Western, which sheltered male and female
alike from the fresh air. Are the sexes really races, each
with its own code of morality, and their mutual love a mere
device of Nature to keep things going? Strip human
intercourse of the proprieties, and is it reduced to this?
Her judgment told her no. She knew that out of Nature's
device we have built a magic that will win us immortality.
Far more mysterious than the call of sex to sex is the
tenderness that we throw into that call; far wider is the
gulf between us and the farmyard than between the farm-yard
and the garbage that nourishes it. We are evolving, in ways
that Science cannot measure, to ends that Theology dares not
contemplate. "Men did produce one jewel," the gods will
say, and, saying, will give us immortality. Margaret knew
all this, but for the moment she could not feel it, and
transformed the marriage of Evie and Mr. Cahill into a
carnival of fools, and her own marriage--too miserable to
think of that, she tore up the letter, and then wrote
Dear Mr. Bast,
I have spoken to Mr. Wilcox about you, as I promised,
and am sorry to say that he has no vacancy for you.
M. J. Schlegel
She enclosed this in a note to Helen, over which she
took less trouble than she might have done; but her head was
aching, and she could not stop to pick her words:
Give him this. The Basts are no good. Henry found
the woman drunk on the lawn. I am having a room got
ready for you here, and will you please come round at
once on getting this? The Basts are not at all the type
we should trouble about. I may go round to them myself
in the morning, and do anything that is fair.
In writing this, Margaret felt that she was being
practical. Something might be arranged for the Basts later
on, but they must be silenced for the moment. She hoped to
avoid a conversation between the woman and Helen. She rang
the bell for a servant, but no one answered it; Mr. Wilcox
and the Warringtons were gone to bed, and the kitchen was
abandoned to Saturnalia. Consequently she went over to the
George herself. She did not enter the hotel, for discussion
would have been perilous, and, saying that the letter was
important, she gave it to the waitress. As she recrossed
the square she saw Helen and Mr. Bast looking out of the
window of the coffee-room, and feared she was already too
late. Her task was not yet over; she ought to tell Henry
what she had done.
This came easily, for she saw him in the hall. The
night wind had been rattling the pictures against the wall,
and the noise had disturbed him.
"Who's there?" he called, quite the householder.
Margaret walked in and past him.
"I have asked Helen to sleep," she said. "She is best
here; so don't lock the front-door."
"I thought someone had got in," said Henry.
"At the same time I told the man that we could do
nothing for him. I don't know about later, but now the
Basts must clearly go."
"Did you say that your sister is sleeping here, after all?"
"Is she to be shown up to your room?"
"I have naturally nothing to say to her; I am going to
bed. Will you tell the servants about Helen? Could someone
go to carry her bag?"
He tapped a little gong, which had been bought to summon
"You must make more noise than that if you want them to hear."
Henry opened a door, and down the corridor came shouts
of laughter. "Far too much screaming there," he said, and
strode towards it. Margaret went upstairs, uncertain
whether to be glad that they had met, or sorry. They had
behaved as if nothing had happened, and her deepest
instincts told her that this was wrong. For his own sake,
some explanation was due.
And yet--what could an explanation tell her? A date, a
place, a few details, which she could imagine all too
clearly. Now that the first shock was over, she saw that
there was every reason to premise a Mrs. Bast. Henry's
inner life had long laid open to her--his intellectual
confusion, his obtuseness to personal influence, his strong
but furtive passions. Should she refuse him because his
outer life corresponded? Perhaps. Perhaps, if the
dishonour had been done to her, but it was done long before
her day. She struggled against the feeling. She told
herself that Mrs. Wilcox's wrong was her own. But she was
not a bargain theorist. As she undressed, her anger, her
regard for the dead, her desire for a scene, all grew weak.
Henry must have it as he liked, for she loved him, and some
day she would use her love to make him a better man.
Pity was at the bottom of her actions all through this
crisis. Pity, if one may generalize, is at the bottom of
woman. When men like us, it is for our better qualities,
and however tender their liking, we dare not be unworthy of
it, or they will quietly let us go. But unworthiness
stimulates woman. It brings out her deeper nature, for good
or for evil.
Here was the core of the question. Henry must be
forgiven, and made better by love; nothing else mattered.
Mrs. Wilcox, that unquiet yet kindly ghost, must be left to
her own wrong. To her everything was in proportion now, and
she, too, would pity the man who was blundering up and down
their lives. Had Mrs. Wilcox known of his trespass? An
interesting question, but Margaret fell asleep, tethered by
affection, and lulled by the murmurs of the river that
descended all the night from Wales. She felt herself at one
with her future home, colouring it and coloured by it, and
awoke to see, for the second time, Oniton Castle conquering
the morning mists.
"Henry dear--" was her greeting.
He had finished his breakfast, and was beginning the
TIMES. His sister-in-law was packing. She knelt by him and
took the paper from him, feeling that it was unusually heavy
and thick. Then, putting her face where it had been, she
looked up in his eyes.
"Henry dear, look at me. No, I won't have you
shirking. Look at me. There. That's all."
"You're referring to last evening," he said huskily. "I
have released you from your engagement. I could find
excuses, but I won't. No, I won't. A thousand times no.
I'm a bad lot, and must be left at that."
Expelled from his old fortress, Mr. Wilcox was building
a new one. He could no longer appear respectable to her, so
he defended himself instead in a lurid past. It was not
"Leave it where you will, boy. It's not going to
trouble us: I know what I'm talking about, and it will make
"No difference?" he inquired. "No difference, when you
find that I am not the fellow you thought?" He was annoyed
with Miss Schlegel here. He would have preferred her to be
prostrated by the blow, or even to rage. Against the tide
of his sin flowed the feeling that she was not altogether
womanly. Her eyes gazed too straight; they had read books
that are suitable for men only. And though he had dreaded a
scene, and though she had determined against one, there was
a scene, all the same. It was somehow imperative.
"I am unworthy of you," he began. "Had I been worthy, I
should not have released you from your engagement. I know
what I am talking about. I can't bear to talk of such
things. We had better leave it. "
She kissed his hand. He jerked it from her, and, rising
to his feet, went on: "You, with your sheltered life, and
refined pursuits, and friends, and books, you and your
sister, and women like you--I say, how can you guess the
temptations that lie round a man?"
"It is difficult for us," said Margaret; "but if we are
worth marrying, we do guess."
"Cut off from decent society and family ties, what do
you suppose happens to thousands of young fellows overseas?
Isolated. No one near. I know by bitter experience, and
yet you say it makes 'no difference.'"
"Not to me."
He laughed bitterly. Margaret went to the side-board
and helped herself to one of the breakfast dishes. Being
the last down, she turned out the spirit-lamp that kept them
warm. She was tender, but grave. She knew that Henry was
not so much confessing his soul as pointing out the gulf
between the male soul and the female, and she did not desire
to hear him on this point.
"Did Helen come?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"But that won't do at all, at all! We don't want her
gossiping with Mrs. Bast."
"Good God! no!" he exclaimed, suddenly natural. Then
he caught himself up. "Let them gossip. My game's up,
though I thank you for your unselfishness--little as my
thanks are worth."
"Didn't she send me a message or anything?"
"I heard of none."
"Would you ring the bell, please?"
"What to do?"
"Why, to inquire."
He swaggered up to it tragically, and sounded a peal.
Margaret poured herself out some coffee. The butler came,
and said that Miss Schlegel had slept at the George, so far
as he had heard. Should he go round to the George?
"I'll go, thank you," said Margaret, and dismissed him.
"It is no good," said Henry. "Those things leak out;
you cannot stop a story once it has started. I have known
cases of other men--I despised them once, I thought that I'M
different, I shall never be tempted. Oh, Margaret--" He
came and sat down near her, improvising emotion. She could
not bear to listen to him. "We fellows all come to grief
once in our time. Will you believe that? There are moments
when the strongest man--'Let him who standeth, take heed
lest he fall.' That's true, isn't it? If you knew all, you
would excuse me. I was far from good influences--far even
from England. I was very, very lonely, and longed for a
woman's voice. That's enough. I have told you too much
already for you to forgive me now."
"Yes, that's enough, dear."
"I have"--he lowered his voice--"I have been through hell."
Gravely she considered this claim. Had he? Had he
suffered tortures of remorse, or had it been, "There!
that's over. Now for respectable life again"? The latter,
if she read him rightly. A man who has been through hell
does not boast of his virility. He is humble and hides it,
if, indeed, it still exists. Only in legend does the sinner
come forth penitent, but terrible, to conquer pure woman by
his resistless power. Henry was anxious to be terrible, but
had not got it in him. He was a good average Englishman,
who had slipped. The really culpable point--his
faithlessness to Mrs. Wilcox--never seemed to strike him.
She longed to mention Mrs. Wilcox.
And bit by bit the story was told her. It was a very
simple story. Ten years ago was the time, a garrison town
in Cyprus the place. Now and then he asked her whether she
could possibly forgive him, and she answered, "I have
already forgiven you, Henry." She chose her words carefully,
and so saved him from panic. She played the girl, until he
could rebuild his fortress and hide his soul from the
world. When the butler came to clear away, Henry was in a
very different mood--asked the fellow what he was in such a
hurry for, complained of the noise last night in the
servants' hall. Margaret looked intently at the butler.
He, as a handsome young man, was faintly attractive to her
as a woman--an attraction so faint as scarcely to be
perceptible, yet the skies would have fallen if she had
mentioned it to Henry.
On her return from the George the building operations
were complete, and the old Henry fronted her, competent,
cynical, and kind. He had made a clean breast, had been
forgiven, and the great thing now was to forget his failure,
and to send it the way of other unsuccessful investments.
Jacky rejoined Howards End and Ducie Street, and the
vermilion motor-car, and the Argentine Hard Dollars, and all
the things and people for whom he had never had much use and
had less now. Their memory hampered him. He could scarcely
attend to Margaret who brought back disquieting news from
the George. Helen and her clients had gone.
"Well, let them go--the man and his wife, I mean, for
the more we see of your sister the better."
"But they have gone separately--Helen very early, the
Basts just before I arrived. They have left no message.
They have answered neither of my notes. I don't like to
think what it all means."
"What did you say in the notes?"
"I told you last night."
"Oh--ah--yes! Dear, would you like one turn in the garden?"
Margaret took his arm. The beautiful weather soothed
her. But the wheels of Evie's wedding were still at work,
tossing the guests outwards as deftly as they had drawn them
in, and she could not be with him long. It had been
arranged that they should motor to Shrewsbury, whence he
would go north, and she back to London with the
Warringtons. For a fraction of time she was happy. Then
her brain recommenced.
"I am afraid there has been gossiping of some kind at
the George. Helen would not have left unless she had heard
something. I mismanaged that. It is wretched. I ought
to--have parted her from that woman at once.
"Margaret!" he exclaimed, loosing her arm impressively.
"I am far from a saint--in fact, the reverse--but you
have taken me, for better or worse. Bygones must be
bygones. You have promised to forgive me. Margaret, a
promise is a promise. Never mention that woman again."
"Except for some practical reason--never."
"Practical! You practical!"
"Yes, I'm practical," she murmured, stooping over the
mowing-machine and playing with the grass which trickled
through her fingers like sand.
He had silenced her, but her fears made him uneasy. Not
for the first time, he was threatened with blackmail. He
was rich and supposed to be moral; the Basts knew that he
was not, and might find it profitable to hint as much.
"At all events, you mustn't worry," he said. "This is a
man's business." He thought intently. "On no account
mention it to anybody."
Margaret flushed at advice so elementary, but he was
really paving the way for a lie. If necessary he would deny
that he had ever known Mrs. Bast, and prosecute her for
libel. Perhaps he never had known her. Here was Margaret,
who behaved as if he had not. There the house. Round them
were half a dozen gardeners, clearing up after his
daughter's wedding. All was so solid and spruce, that the
past flew up out of sight like a spring-blind, leaving only
the last five minutes unrolled.
Glancing at these, he saw that the car would be round
during the next five, and plunged into action. Gongs were
tapped, orders issued, Margaret was sent to dress, and the
housemaid to sweep up the long trickle of grass that she had
left across the hall. As is Man to the Universe, so was the
mind of Mr. Wilcox to the minds of some men--a concentrated
light upon a tiny spot, a little Ten Minutes moving
self-contained through its appointed years. No Pagan he,
who lives for the Now, and may be wiser than all
philosophers. He lived for the five minutes that have past,
and the five to come; he had the business mind.
How did he stand now, as his motor slipped out of Oniton
and breasted the great round hills? Margaret had heard a
certain rumour, but was all right. She had forgiven him,
God bless her, and he felt the manlier for it. Charles and
Evie had not heard it, and never must hear. No more must
Paul. Over his children he felt great tenderness, which he
did not try to track to a cause: Mrs. Wilcox was too far
back in his life. He did not connect her with the sudden
aching love that he felt for Evie. Poor little Evie! he
trusted that Cahill would make her a decent husband.
And Margaret? How did she stand?
She had several minor worries. Clearly her sister had
heard something. She dreaded meeting her in town. And she
was anxious about Leonard, for whom they certainly were
responsible. Nor ought Mrs. Bast to starve. But the main
situation had not altered. She still loved Henry. His
actions, not his disposition, had disappointed her, and she
could bear that. And she loved her future home. Standing
up in the car, just where she had leapt from it two days
before, she gazed back with deep emotion upon Oniton.
Besides the Grange and the Castle keep, she could now pick
out the church and the black-and-white gables of the
George. There was the bridge, and the river nibbling its
green peninsula. She could even see the bathing-shed, but
while she was looking for Charles's new springboard, the
forehead of the hill rose up and hid the whole scene.
She never saw it again. Day and night the river flows
down into England, day after day the sun retreats into the
Welsh mountains, and the tower chimes, "See the Conquering
Hero." But the Wilcoxes have no part in the place, nor in
any place. It is not their names that recur in the parish
register. It is not their ghosts that sigh among the alders
at evening. They have swept into the valley and swept out
of it, leaving a little dust and a little money behind.
Tibby was now approaching his last year at Oxford. He had
moved out of college, and was contemplating the Universe, or
such portions of it as concerned him, from his comfortable
lodgings in Long Wall. He was not concerned with much.
When a young man is untroubled by passions and sincerely
indifferent to public opinion, his outlook is necessarily
limited. Tibby neither wished to strengthen the position of
the rich nor to improve that of the poor, and so was well
content to watch the elms nodding behind the mildly
embattled parapets of Magdalen. There are worse lives.
Though selfish, he was never cruel; though affected in
manner, he never posed. Like Margaret, he disdained the
heroic equipment, and it was only after many visits that men
discovered Schlegel to possess a character and a brain. He
had done well in Mods, much to the surprise of those who
attended lectures and took proper exercise, and was now
glancing disdainfully at Chinese in case he should some day
consent to qualify as a Student Interpreter. To him thus
employed Helen entered. A telegram had preceded her.
He noticed, in a distant way, that his sister had
altered. As a rule he found her too pronounced, and had
never come across this look of appeal, pathetic yet
dignified--the look of a sailor who has lost everything at sea.
"I have come from Oniton," she began. "There has been a
great deal of trouble there."
"Who's for lunch?" said Tibby, picking up the claret,
which was warming in the hearth. Helen sat down
submissively at the table. "Why such an early start?" he asked.
"Sunrise or something--when I could get away."
"So I surmise. Why?"
"I don't know what's to be done, Tibby. I am very much
upset at a piece of news that concerns Meg, and do not want
to face her, and I am not going back to Wickham Place. I
stopped here to tell you this."
The landlady came in with the cutlets. Tibby put a
marker in the leaves of his Chinese Grammar and helped
them. Oxford--the Oxford of the vacation--dreamed and
rustled outside, and indoors the little fire was coated with
grey where the sunshine touched it. Helen continued her odd
"Give Meg my love and say that I want to be alone. I
mean to go to Munich or else Bonn."
"Such a message is easily given," said her brother.
"As regards Wickham Place and my share of the furniture,
you and she are to do exactly as you like. My own feeling
is that everything may just as well be sold. What does one
want with dusty economic, books, which have made the world
no better, or with mother's hideous chiffoniers? I have
also another commission for you. I want you to deliver a
letter." She got up. "I haven't written it yet. Why
shouldn't I post it, though?" She sat down again. "My head
is rather wretched. I hope that none of your friends are
likely to come in."
Tibby locked the door. His friends often found it in
this condition. Then he asked whether anything had gone
wrong at Evie's wedding.
"Not there," said Helen, and burst into tears.
He had known her hysterical--it was one of her aspects
with which he had no concern--and yet these tears touched
him as something unusual. They were nearer the things that
did concern him, such as music. He laid down his knife and
looked at her curiously. Then, as she continued to sob, he
went on with his lunch.
The time came for the second course, and she was still
crying. Apple Charlotte was to follow, which spoils by
waiting. "Do you mind Mrs. Martlett coming in?" he asked,
"or shall I take it from her at the door?"
"Could I bathe my eyes, Tibby?"
He took her to his bedroom, and introduced the pudding
in her absence. Having helped himself, he put it down to
warm in the hearth. His hand stretched towards the Grammar,
and soon he was turning over the pages, raising his eyebrows
scornfully, perhaps at human nature, perhaps at Chinese. To
him thus employed Helen returned. She had pulled herself
together, but the grave appeal had not vanished from her eyes.
"Now for the explanation," she said. "Why didn't I
begin with it? I have found out something about Mr.
Wilcox. He has behaved very wrongly indeed, and ruined two
people's lives. It all came on me very suddenly last night;
I am very much upset, and I do not know what to do. Mrs. Bast--"
"Oh, those people!"
Helen seemed silenced.
"Shall I lock the door again?"
"No, thanks, Tibbikins. You're being very good to me.
I want to tell you the story before I go abroad. You must
do exactly what you like--treat it as part of the
furniture. Meg cannot have heard it yet, I think. But I
cannot face her and tell her that the man she is going to
marry has misconducted himself. I don't even know whether
she ought to be told. Knowing as she does that I dislike
him, she will suspect me, and think that I want to ruin her
match. I simply don't know what to make of such a thing. I
trust your judgment. What would you do?"
"I gather he has had a mistress," said Tibby.
Helen flushed with shame and anger. "And ruined two
people's lives. And goes about saying that personal actions
count for nothing, and there always will be rich and poor.
He met her when he was trying to get rich out in Cyprus--I
don't wish to make him worse than he is, and no doubt she
was ready enough to meet him. But there it is. They met.
He goes his way and she goes hers. What do you suppose is
the end of such women?"
He conceded that it was a bad business.
"They end in two ways: Either they sink till the lunatic
asylums and the workhouses are full of them, and cause Mr.
Wilcox to write letters to the papers complaining of our
national degeneracy, or else they entrap a boy into marriage
before it is too late. She--I can't blame her.
"But this isn't all," she continued after a long pause,
during which the landlady served them with coffee. "I come
now to the business that took us to Oniton. We went all
three. Acting on Mr. Wilcox's advice, the man throws up a
secure situation and takes an insecure one, from which he is
dismissed. There are certain excuses, but in the main Mr.
Wilcox is to blame, as Meg herself admitted. It is only
common justice that he should employ the man himself. But
he meets the woman, and, like the cur that he is, he
refuses, and tries to get rid of them. He makes Meg write.
Two notes came from her late that evening--one for me, one
for Leonard, dismissing him with barely a reason. I
couldn't understand. Then it comes out that Mrs. Bast had
spoken to Mr. Wilcox on the lawn while we left her to get
rooms, and was still speaking about him when Leonard came
back to her. This Leonard knew all along. He thought it
natural he should be ruined twice. Natural! Could you have
"It is certainly a very bad business," said Tibby.
His reply seemed to calm his sister. "I was afraid that
I saw it out of proportion. But you are right outside it,
and you must know. In a day or two--or perhaps a week--take
whatever steps you think fit. I leave it in your hands."
She concluded her charge.
"The facts as they touch Meg are all before you," she
added; and Tibby sighed and felt it rather hard that,
because of his open mind, he should be empanelled to serve
as a juror. He had never been interested in human beings,
for which one must blame him, but he had had rather too much
of them at Wickham Place. Just as some people cease to
attend when books are mentioned, so Tibby's attention
wandered when "personal relations" came under discussion.
Ought Margaret to know what Helen knew the Basts to know?
Similar questions had vexed him from infancy, and at Oxford
he had learned to say that the importance of human beings
has been vastly overrated by specialists. The epigram, with
its faint whiff of the eighties, meant nothing. But he
might have let it off now if his sister had not been
"You see, Helen--have a cigarette--I don't see what I'm
"Then there's nothing to be done. I dare say you are
right. Let them marry. There remains the question of
"Do you want me to adjudicate that too? Had you not
better consult an expert?"
"This part is in confidence," said Helen. "It has
nothing to do with Meg, and do not mention it to her. The
compensation--I do not see who is to pay it if I don't, and
I have already decided on the minimum sum. As soon as
possible I am placing it to your account, and when I am in
Germany you will pay it over for me. I shall never forget
your kindness, Tibbikins, if you do this."
"What is the sum?"
"Good God alive!" said Tibby, and went crimson.
"Now, what is the good of driblets? To go through life
having done one thing--to have raised one person from the
abyss: not these puny gifts of shillings and
blankets--making the grey more grey. No doubt people will
think me extraordinary."
"I don't care a damn what people think!" cried he,
heated to unusual manliness of diction. "But it's half what
"Not nearly half." She spread out her hands over her
soiled skirt. "I have far too much, and we settled at
Chelsea last spring that three hundred a year is necessary
to set a man on his feet. What I give will bring in a
hundred and fifty between two. It isn't enough."
He could not recover. He was not angry or even shocked,
and he saw that Helen would still have plenty to live on.
But it amazed him to think what haycocks people can make of
their lives. His delicate intonations would not work, and
he could only blurt out that the five thousand pounds would
mean a great deal of bother for him personally.
"I didn't expect you to understand me."
"I? I understand nobody."
"But you'll do it?"
"I leave you two commissions, then. The first concerns
Mr. Wilcox, and you are to use your discretion. The second
concerns the money, and is to be mentioned to no one, and
carried out literally. You will send a hundred pounds on
He walked with her to the station, passing through those
streets whose serried beauty never bewildered him and never
fatigued. The lovely creature raised domes and spires into
the cloudless blue, and only the ganglion of vulgarity round
Carfax showed how evanescent was the phantom, how faint its
claim to represent England. Helen, rehearsing her
commission, noticed nothing: the Basts were in her brain,
and she retold the crisis in a meditative way, which might
have made other men curious. She was seeing whether it
would hold. He asked her once why she had taken the Basts
right into the heart of Evie's wedding. She stopped like a
frightened animal and said, "Does that seem to you so odd?"
Her eyes, the hand laid on the mouth, quite haunted him,
until they were absorbed into the figure of St. Mary the
Virgin, before whom he paused for a moment on the walk home.
It is convenient to follow him in the discharge of his
duties. Margaret summoned him the next day. She was
terrified at Helen's flight, and he had to say that she had
called in at Oxford. Then she said: "Did she seem worried
at any rumour about Henry?" He answered, "Yes." "I knew it
was that!" she exclaimed. "I'll write to her." Tibby was relieved.
He then sent the cheque to the address that Helen gave
him, and stated that later on he was instructed to forward
five thousand pounds. An answer came back, very civil and
quiet in tone--such an answer as Tibby himself would have
given. The cheque was returned, the legacy refused, the
writer being in no need of money. Tibby forwarded this to
Helen, adding in the fulness of his heart that Leonard Bast
seemed somewhat a monumental person after all. Helen's
reply was frantic. He was to take no notice. He was to go
down at once and say that she commanded acceptance. He
went. A scurf of books and china ornaments awaited them.
The Basts had just been evicted for not paying their rent,
and had wandered no one knew whither. Helen had begun
bungling with her money by this time, and had even sold out
her shares in the Nottingham and Derby Railway. For some
weeks she did nothing. Then she reinvested, and, owing to
the good advice of her stockbrokers, became rather richer
than she had been before.
Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as
the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some
quietly, but to an after-life in the city of ghosts, while
from others--and thus was the death of Wickham Place--the
spirit slips before the body perishes. It had decayed in
the spring, disintegrating the girls more than they knew,
and causing either to accost unfamiliar regions. By
September it was a corpse, void of emotion, and scarcely
hallowed by the memories of thirty years of happiness.
Through its round-topped doorway passed furniture, and
pictures, and books, until the last room was gutted and the
last van had rumbled away. It stood for a week or two
longer, open-eyed, as if astonished at its own emptiness.
Then it fell. Navvies came, and spilt it back into the
grey. With their muscles and their beery good temper, they
were not the worst of undertakers for a house which had
always been human, and had not mistaken culture for an end.
The furniture, with a few exceptions, went down into
Hertfordshire, Mr. Wilcox having most kindly offered Howards
End as a warehouse. Mr. Bryce had died abroad--an
unsatisfactory affair--and as there seemed little guarantee
that the rent would be paid regularly, he cancelled the
agreement, and resumed possession himself. Until he relet
the house, the Schlegels were welcome to stack their
furniture in the garage and lower rooms. Margaret demurred,
but Tibby accepted the offer gladly; it saved him from
coming to any decision about the future. The plate and the
more valuable pictures found a safer home in London, but the
bulk of the things went country-ways, and were entrusted to
the guardianship of Miss Avery.
Shortly before the move, our hero and heroine were
married. They have weathered the storm, and may reasonably
expect peace. To have no illusions and yet to love--what
stronger surety can a woman find? She had seen her
husband's past as well as his heart. She knew her own heart
with a thoroughness that commonplace people believe
impossible. The heart of Mrs. Wilcox was alone hidden, and
perhaps it is superstitious to speculate on the feelings of
the dead. They were married quietly--really quietly, for as
the day approached she refused to go through another
Oniton. Her brother gave her away, her aunt, who was out of
health, presided over a few colourless refreshments. The
Wilcoxes were represented by Charles, who witnessed the
marriage settlement, and by Mr. Cahill. Paul did send a
cablegram. In a few minutes, and without the aid of music,
the clergyman made them man and wife, and soon the glass
shade had fallen that cuts off married couples from the
world. She, a monogamist, regretted the cessation of some
of life's innocent odours; he, whose instincts were
polygamous, felt morally braced by the change, and less
liable to the temptations that had assailed him in the past.
They spent their honeymoon near Innsbruck. Henry knew
of a reliable hotel there, and Margaret hoped for a meeting
with her sister. In this she was disappointed. As they
came south, Helen retreated over the Brenner, and wrote an
unsatisfactory postcard from the shores of the Lake of
Garda, saying that her plans were uncertain and had better
be ignored. Evidently she disliked meeting Henry. Two
months are surely enough to accustom an outsider to a
situation which a wife has accepted in two days, and
Margaret had again to regret her sister's lack of
self-control. In a long letter she pointed out the need of
charity in sexual matters: so little is known about them; it
is hard enough for those who are personally touched to
judge; then how futile must be the verdict of Society. "I
don't say there is no standard, for that would destroy
morality; only that there can be no standard until our
impulses are classified and better understood." Helen
thanked her for her kind letter--rather a curious reply.
She moved south again, and spoke of wintering in Naples.
Mr. Wilcox was not sorry that the meeting failed. Helen
left him time to grow skin over his wound. There were still
moments when it pained him. Had he only known that Margaret
was awaiting him--Margaret, so lively and intelligent, and
yet so submissive--he would have kept himself worthier of
her. Incapable of grouping the past, he confused the
episode of Jacky with another episode that had taken place
in the days of his bachelorhood. The two made one crop of
wild oats, for which he was heartily sorry, and he could not
see that those oats are of a darker stock which are rooted
in another's dishonour. Unchastity and infidelity were as
confused to him as to the Middle Ages, his only moral
teacher. Ruth (poor old Ruth!) did not enter into his
calculations at all, for poor old Ruth had never found him out.
His affection for his present wife grew steadily. Her
cleverness gave him no trouble, and, indeed, he liked to see
her reading poetry or something about social questions; it
distinguished her from the wives of other men. He had only
to call, and she clapped the book up and was ready to do
what he wished. Then they would argue so jollily, and once
or twice she had him in quite a tight corner, but as soon as
he grew really serious, she gave in. Man is for war, woman
for the recreation of the warrior, but he does not dislike
it if she makes a show of fight. She cannot win in a real
battle, having no muscles, only nerves. Nerves make her
jump out of a moving motor-car, or refuse to be married
fashionably. The warrior may well allow her to triumph on
such occasions; they move not the imperishable plinth of
things that touch his peace.
Margaret had a bad attack of these nerves during the
honeymoon. He told her--casually, as was his habit--that
Oniton Grange was let. She showed her annoyance, and asked
rather crossly why she had not been consulted.
"I didn't want to bother you," he replied. "Besides, I
have only heard for certain this morning."
"Where are we to live?" said Margaret, trying to laugh.
"I loved the place extraordinarily. Don't you believe in
having a permanent home, Henry?"
He assured her that she misunderstood him. It is home
life that distinguishes us from the foreigner. But he did
not believe in a damp home.
"This is news. I never heard till this minute that
Oniton was damp."
"My dear girl!"--he flung out his hand--"have you eyes?
have you a skin? How could it be anything but damp in such
a situation? In the first place, the Grange is on clay, and
built where the castle moat must have been; then there's
that destestable little river, steaming all night like a
kettle. Feel the cellar walls; look up under the eaves.
Ask Sir James or anyone. Those Shropshire valleys are
notorious. The only possible place for a house in
Shropshire is on a hill; but, for my part, I think the
country is too far from London, and the scenery nothing
Margaret could not resist saying, "Why did you go there,
"I--because--" He drew his head back and grew rather
angry. "Why have we come to the Tyrol, if it comes to
that? One might go on asking such questions indefinitely."
One might; but he was only gaining time for a plausible
answer. Out it came, and he believed it as soon as it was spoken.
"The truth is, I took Oniton on account of Evie. Don't
let this go any further."
"I shouldn't like her to know that she nearly let me in
for a very bad bargain. No sooner did I sign the agreement
than she got engaged. Poor little girl! She was so keen on
it all, and wouldn't even wait to make proper inquiries
about the shooting. Afraid it would get snapped up--just
like all of your sex. Well, no harm's done. She has had
her country wedding, and I've got rid of my house to some
fellows who are starting a preparatory school."
"Where shall we live, then, Henry? I should enjoy
"I have not yet decided. What about Norfolk?"
Margaret was silent. Marriage had not saved her from
the sense of flux. London was but a foretaste of this
nomadic civilization which is altering human nature so
profoundly, and throws upon personal relations a stress
greater than they have ever borne before. Under
cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from
the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a
spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on
character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be
equal to the task!
"It is now what?" continued Henry. "Nearly October.
Let us camp for the winter at Ducie Street, and look out for
something in the spring.
"If possible, something permanent. I can't be as young
as I was, for these alterations don't suit me. "
"But, my dear, which would you rather have--alterations
"I see your point," said Margaret, getting up. "If
Oniton is really damp, it is impossible, and must be
inhabited by little boys. Only, in the spring, let us look
before we leap. I will take warning by Evie, and not hurry
you. Remember that you have a free hand this time. These
endless moves must be bad for the furniture, and are
"What a practical little woman it is! What's it been
reading? Theo--theo--how much?"
So Ducie Street was her first fate--a pleasant enough
fate. The house, being only a little larger than Wickham
Place, trained her for the immense establishment that was
promised in the spring. They were frequently away, but at
home life ran fairly regularly. In the morning Henry went
to the business, and his sandwich--a relic this of some
prehistoric craving--was always cut by her own hand. He did
not rely upon the sandwich for lunch, but liked to have it
by him in case he grew hungry at eleven. When he had gone,
there was the house to look after, and the servants to
humanize, and several kettles of Helen's to keep on the
boil. Her conscience pricked her a little about the Basts;
she was not sorry to have lost sight of them. No doubt
Leonard was worth helping, but being Henry's wife, she
preferred to help someone else. As for theatres and
discussion societies, they attracted her less and less. She
began to "miss" new movements, and to spend her spare time
re-reading or thinking, rather to the concern of her Chelsea
friends. They attributed the change to her marriage, and
perhaps some deep instinct did warn her not to travel
further from her husband than was inevitable. Yet the main
cause lay deeper still; she had outgrown stimulants, and was
passing from words to things. It was doubtless a pity not
to keep up with Wedekind or John, but some closing of the
gates is inevitable after thirty, if the mind itself is to
become a creative power.
She was looking at plans one day in the following
spring--they had finally decided to go down into Sussex and
build--when Mrs. Charles Wilcox was announced.
"Have you heard the news?" Dolly cried, as soon as she
entered the room. "Charles is so ang--I mean he is sure you
know about it, or rather, that you don't know."
"Why, Dolly!" said Margaret, placidly kissing her.
"Here's a surprise! How are the boys and the baby?"
Boys and the baby were well, and in describing a great
row that there had been at Hilton Tennis Club, Dolly forgot
her news. The wrong people had tried to get in. The
rector, as representing the older inhabitants, had
said--Charles had said--the tax-collector had said--Charles
had regretted not saying--and she closed the description
with, "But lucky you, with four courts of your own at Midhurst."
"It will be very jolly," replied Margaret.
"Are those the plans? Does it matter me seeing them?"
"Of course not."
"Charles has never seen the plans."
"They have only just arrived. Here is the ground
floor--no, that's rather difficult. Try the elevation. We
are to have a good many gables and a picturesque sky-line."
"What makes it smell so funny?" said Dolly, after a
moment's inspection. She was incapable of understanding
plans or maps.
"I suppose the paper."
"And WHICH way up is it?"
"Just the ordinary way up. That's the sky-line, and the
part that smells strongest is the sky."
"Well, ask me another. Margaret--oh--what was I going
to say? How's Helen?"
"Is she never coming back to England? Every one thinks
it's awfully odd she doesn't."
"So it is," said Margaret, trying to conceal her
vexation. She was getting rather sore on this point.
"Helen is odd, awfully. She has now been away eight months.
"But hasn't she any address?"
"A poste restante somewhere in Bavaria is her address.
Do write her a line. I will look it up for you."
"No, don't bother. That's eight months she has been
"Exactly. She left just after Evie's wedding. It would
be eight months."
"Just when baby was born, then?"
Dolly sighed, and stared enviously round the
drawing-room. She was beginning to lose her brightness and
good looks. The Charles' were not well off, for Mr. Wilcox,
having brought up his children with expensive tastes,
believed in letting them shift for themselves. After all,
he had not treated them generously. Yet another baby was
expected, she told Margaret, and they would have to give up
the motor. Margaret sympathized, but in a formal fashion,
and Dolly little imagined that the step-mother was urging
Mr. Wilcox to make them a more liberal allowance. She
sighed again, and at last the particular grievance was
remembered. "Oh yes," she cried, "that is it: Miss Avery
has been unpacking your packing-cases."
"Why has she done that? How unnecessary!"
"Ask another. I suppose you ordered her to."
"I gave no such orders. Perhaps she was airing the
things. She did undertake to light an occasional fire."
"It was far more than an air," said Dolly solemnly.
"The floor sounds covered with books. Charles sent me to
know what is to be done, for he feels certain you don't know."
"Books!" cried Margaret, moved by the holy word.
"Dolly, are you serious? Has she been touching our books?"
"Hasn't she, though! What used to be the hall's full of
them. Charles thought for certain you knew of it."
"I am very much obliged to you, Dolly. What can have
come over Miss Avery? I must go down about it at once.
Some of the books are my brother's, and are quite valuable.
She had no right to open any of the cases."
"I say she's dotty. She was the one that never got
married, you know. Oh, I say, perhaps she thinks your books
are wedding-presents to herself. Old maids are taken that
way sometimes. Miss Avery hates us all like poison ever
since her frightful dust-up with Evie."
"I hadn't heard of that," said Margaret. A visit from
Dolly had its compensations.
"Didn't you know she gave Evie a present last August,
and Evie returned it, and then--oh, goloshes! You never
read such a letter as Miss Avery wrote."
"But it was wrong of Evie to return it. It wasn't like
her to do such a heartless thing."
"But the present was so expensive."
"Why does that make any difference, Dolly?"
"Still, when it costs over five pounds--I didn't see it,
but it was a lovely enamel pendant from a Bond Street shop.
You can't very well accept that kind of thing from a farm
woman. Now, can you?"
"You accepted a present from Miss Avery when you were married.
"Oh, mine was old earthenware stuff--not worth a
halfpenny. Evie's was quite different. You'd have to ask
anyone to the wedding who gave you a pendant like that.
Uncle Percy and Albert and father and Charles all said it
was quite impossible, and when four men agree, what is a
girl to do? Evie didn't want to upset the old thing, so
thought a sort of joking letter best, and returned the
pendant straight to the shop to save Miss Avery trouble."
"But Miss Avery said--"
Dolly's eyes grew round. "It was a perfectly awful
letter. Charles said it was the letter of a madman. In the
end she had the pendant back again from the shop and threw
it into the duckpond.
"Did she give any reasons?"
"We think she meant to be invited to Oniton, and so
climb into society."
"She's rather old for that," said Margaret pensively.
"May not she have given the present to Evie in remembrance
of her mother?"
"That's a notion. Give every one their due, eh? Well,
I suppose I ought to be toddling. Come along, Mr. Muff--you
want a new coat, but I don't know who'll give it you, I'm
sure;" and addressing her apparel with mournful humour,
Dolly moved from the room.
Margaret followed her to ask whether Henry knew about
Miss Avery's rudeness.
"I wonder, then, why he let me ask her to look after the
"But she's only a farm woman," said Dolly, and her
explanation proved correct. Henry only censured the lower
classes when it suited him. He bore with Miss Avery as with
Crane--because he could get good value out of them. "I have
patience with a man who knows his job," he would say, really
having patience with the job, and not the man. Paradoxical
as it may sound, he had something of the artist about him;
he would pass over an insult to his daughter sooner than
lose a good charwoman for his wife.
Margaret judged it better to settle the little trouble
herself. Parties were evidently ruffled. With Henry's
permission, she wrote a pleasant note to Miss Avery, asking
her to leave the cases untouched. Then, at the first
convenient opportunity, she went down herself, intending to
repack her belongings and store them properly in the local
warehouse: the plan had been amateurish and a failure.
Tibby promised to accompany her, but at the last moment
begged to be excused. So, for the second time in her life,
she entered the house alone.
The day of her visit was exquisite, and the last of
unclouded happiness that she was to have for many months.
Her anxiety about Helen's extraordinary absence was still
dormant, and as for a possible brush with Miss Avery--that
only gave zest to the expedition. She had also eluded
Dolly's invitation to luncheon. Walking straight up from
the station, she crossed the village green and entered the
long chestnut avenue that connects it with the church. The
church itself stood in the village once. But it there
attracted so many worshippers that the devil, in a pet,
snatched it from its foundations, and poised it on an
inconvenient knoll, three-quarters of a mile away. If this
story is true, the chestnut avenue must have been planted by
the angels. No more tempting approach could be imagined for
the luke-warm Christian, and if he still finds the walk too
long, the devil is defeated all the same, Science having
built Holy Trinity, a Chapel of Ease, near the Charles', and
roofed it with tin.
Up the avenue Margaret strolled slowly, stopping to
watch the sky that gleamed through the upper branches of the
chestnuts, or to finger the little horseshoes on the lower
branches. Why has not England a great mythology? Our
folklore has never advanced beyond daintiness, and the
greater melodies about our country-side have all issued
through the pipes of Greece. Deep and true as the native
imagination can be, it seems to have failed here. It has
stopped with the witches and the fairies. It cannot vivify
one fraction of a summer field, or give names to half a
dozen stars. England still waits for the supreme moment of
her literature--for the great poet who shall voice her, or,
better still, for the thousand little poets whose voices
shall pass into our common talk.
At the church the scenery changed. The chestnut avenue
opened into a road, smooth but narrow, which led into the
untouched country. She followed it for over a mile. Its
little hesitations pleased her. Having no urgent destiny,
it strolled downhill or up as it wished, taking no trouble
about the gradients, nor about the view, which nevertheless
expanded. The great estates that throttle the south of
Hertfordshire were less obtrusive here, and the appearance
of the land was neither aristocratic nor suburban. To
define it was difficult, but Margaret knew what it was not:
it was not snobbish. Though its contours were slight, there
was a touch of freedom in their sweep to which Surrey will
never attain, and the distant brow of the Chilterns towered
like a mountain. "Left to itself," was Margaret's opinion,
"this county would vote Liberal." The comradeship, not
passionate, that is our highest gift as a nation, was
promised by it, as by the low brick farm where she called
for the key.
But the inside of the farm was disappointing. A most
finished young person received her. "Yes, Mrs. Wilcox; no,
Mrs. Wilcox; oh yes, Mrs. Wilcox, auntie received your
letter quite duly. Auntie has gone up to your little place
at the present moment. Shall I send the servant to direct
you?" Followed by: "Of course, auntie does not generally
look after your place; she only does it to oblige a
neighbour as something exceptional. It gives her something
to do. She spends quite a lot of her time there. My
husband says to me sometimes, 'Where's auntie?' I say, 'Need
you ask? She's at Howards End.' Yes, Mrs. Wilcox. Mrs.
Wilcox, could I prevail upon you to accept a piece of cake?
Not if I cut it for you?"
Margaret refused the cake, but unfortunately this
acquired her gentility in the eyes of Miss Avery's niece.
"I cannot let you go on alone. Now don't. You really
mustn't. I will direct you myself if it comes to that. I
must get my hat. Now"--roguishly--"Mrs. Wilcox, don't you
move while I'm gone."
Stunned, Margaret did not move from the best parlour,
over which the touch of art nouveau had fallen. But the
other rooms looked in keeping, though they conveyed the
peculiar sadness of a rural interior. Here had lived an
elder race, to which we look back with disquietude. The
country which we visit at week-ends was really a home to it,
and the graver sides of life, the deaths, the partings, the
yearnings for love, have their deepest expression in the
heart of the fields. All was not sadness. The sun was
shining without. The thrush sang his two syllables on the
budding guelder-rose. Some children were playing
uproariously in heaps of golden straw. It was the presence
of sadness at all that surprised Margaret, and ended by
giving her a feeling of completeness. In these English
farms, if anywhere, one might see life steadily and see it
whole, group in one vision its transitoriness and its
eternal youth, connect--connect without bitterness until all
men are brothers. But her thoughts were interrupted by the
return of Miss Avery's niece, and were so tranquillizing
that she suffered the interruption gladly.
It was quicker to go out by the back door, and, after
due explanations, they went out by it. The niece was now
mortified by unnumerable chickens, who rushed up to her feet
for food, and by a shameless and maternal sow. She did not
know what animals were coming to. But her gentility
withered at the touch of the sweet air. The wind was
rising, scattering the straw and ruffling the tails of the
ducks as they floated in families over Evie's pendant. One
of those delicious gales of spring, in which leaves stiff in
bud seem to rustle, swept over the land and then fell
silent. "Georgia," sang the thrush. "Cuckoo," came
furtively from the cliff of pine-trees. "Georgia, pretty
Georgia," and the other birds joined in with nonsense. The
hedge was a half-painted picture which would be finished in
a few days. Celandines grew on its banks, lords and ladies
and primroses in the defended hollows; the wild rose-bushes,
still bearing their withered hips, showed also the promise
of blossom. Spring had come, clad in no classical garb, yet
fairer than all springs; fairer even than she who walks
through the myrtles of Tuscany with the graces before her
and the zephyr behind.
The two women walked up the lane full of outward
civility. But Margaret was thinking how difficult it was to
be earnest about furniture on such a day, and the niece was
thinking about hats. Thus engaged, they reached Howards
End. Petulant cries of "Auntie!" severed the air. There
was no reply, and the front door was locked.
"Are you sure that Miss Avery is up here?" asked Margaret.
"Oh yes, Mrs. Wilcox, quite sure. She is here daily."
Margaret tried to look in through the dining-room
window, but the curtain inside was drawn tightly. So with
the drawing-room and the hall. The appearance of these
curtains was familiar, yet she did not remember them being
there on her other visit: her impression was that Mr. Bryce
had taken everything away. They tried the back. Here again
they received no answer, and could see nothing; the
kitchen-window was fitted with a blind, while the pantry and
scullery had pieces of wood propped up against them, which
looked ominously like the lids of packing-cases. Margaret
thought of her books, and she lifted up her voice also. At
the first cry she succeeded.
"Well, well!" replied someone inside the house. "If it
isn't Mrs. Wilcox come at last!"
"Have you got the key, auntie?"
"Madge, go away," said Miss Avery, still invisible.
"Auntie, it's Mrs. Wilcox--"
Margaret supported her. "Your niece and I have come together--"
"Madge, go away. This is no moment for your hat."
The poor woman went red. "Auntie gets more eccentric
lately," she said nervously.
"Miss Avery!" called Margaret. "I have come about the
furniture. Could you kindly let me in?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wilcox," said the voice, "of course." But
after that came silence. They called again without
response. They walked round the house disconsolately.
"I hope Miss Avery is not ill," hazarded Margaret.
"Well, if you'll excuse me," said Madge, "perhaps I
ought to be leaving you now. The servants need seeing to at
the farm. Auntie is so odd at times." Gathering up her
elegancies, she retired defeated, and, as if her departure
had loosed a spring, the front door opened at once.
Miss Avery said, "Well, come right in, Mrs. Wilcox!"
quite pleasantly and calmly.
"Thank you so much," began Margaret, but broke off at
the sight of an umbrella-stand. It was her own.
"Come right into the hall first," said Miss Avery. She
drew the curtain, and Margaret uttered a cry of despair.
For an appalling thing had happened. The hall was fitted up
with the contents of the library from Wickham Place. The
carpet had been laid, the big work-table drawn up near the
window; the bookcases filled the wall opposite the
fireplace, and her father's sword--this is what bewildered
her particularly--had been drawn from its scabbard and hung
naked amongst the sober volumes. Miss Avery must have
worked for days.
"I'm afraid this isn't what we meant," she began. "Mr.
Wilcox and I never intended the cases to be touched. For
instance, these books are my brother's. We are storing them
for him and for my sister, who is abroad. When you kindly
undertook to look after things, we never expected you to do
"The house has been empty long enough," said the old woman.
Margaret refused to argue. "I dare say we didn't
explain," she said civilly. "It has been a mistake, and
very likely our mistake."
"Mrs. Wilcox, it has been mistake upon mistake for fifty
years. The house is Mrs. Wilcox's, and she would not desire
it to stand empty any longer."
To help the poor decaying brain, Margaret said:
"Yes, Mrs. Wilcox's house, the mother of Mr. Charles."
"Mistake upon mistake," said Miss Avery. "Mistake upon mistake."
"Well, I don't know," said Margaret, sitting down in one
of her own chairs. "I really don't know what's to be
done." She could not help laughing.
The other said: "Yes, it should be a merry house enough."
"I don't know--I dare say. Well, thank you very much,
Miss Avery. Yes, that's all right. Delightful."
"There is still the parlour." She went through the door
opposite and drew a curtain. Light flooded the drawing-room
and the drawing-room furniture from Wickham Place. "And the
dining-room." More curtains were drawn, more windows were
flung open to the spring. "Then through here--" Miss Avery
continued passing and repassing through the hall. Her voice
was lost, but Margaret heard her pulling up the kitchen
blind. "I've not finished here yet," she announced,
returning. "There's still a deal to do. The farm lads will
carry your great wardrobes upstairs, for there is no need to
go into expense at Hilton."
"It is all a mistake," repeated Margaret, feeling that
she must put her foot down. "A misunderstanding. Mr.
Wilcox and I are not going to live at Howards End."
"Oh, indeed. On account of his hay fever?"
"We have settled to build a new home for ourselves in
Sussex, and part of this furniture--my part--will go down
there presently." She looked at Miss Avery intently, trying
to understand the kink in her brain. Here was no maundering
old woman. Her wrinkles were shrewd and humorous. She
looked capable of scathing wit and also of high but
"You think that you won't come back to live here, Mrs.
Wilcox, but you will."
"That remains to be seen," said Margaret, smiling. "We
have no intention of doing so for the present. We happen to
need a much larger house. Circumstances oblige us to give
big parties. Of course, some day--one never knows, does one?"
Miss Avery retorted: "Some day! Tcha! tcha! Don't
talk about some day. You are living here now."
"You are living here, and have been for the last ten
minutes, if you ask me."
It was a senseless remark, but with a queer feeling of
disloyalty Margaret rose from her chair. She felt that
Henry had been obscurely censured. They went into the
dining-room, where the sunlight poured in upon her mother's
chiffonier, and upstairs, where many an old god peeped from
a new niche. The furniture fitted extraordinarily well. In
the central room--over the hall, the room that Helen had
slept in four years ago--Miss Avery had placed Tibby's old
"The nursery," she said.
Margaret turned away without speaking.
At last everything was seen. The kitchen and lobby were
still stacked with furniture and straw, but, as far as she
could make out, nothing had been broken or scratched. A
pathetic display of ingenuity! Then they took a friendly
stroll in the garden. It had gone wild since her last
visit. The gravel sweep was weedy, and grass had sprung up
at the very jaws of the garage. And Evie's rockery was only
bumps. Perhaps Evie was responsible for Miss Avery's
oddness. But Margaret suspected that the cause lay deeper,
and that the girl's silly letter had but loosed the
irritation of years.
"It's a beautiful meadow," she remarked. It was one of
those open-air drawing-rooms that have been formed, hundreds
of years ago, out of the smaller fields. So the boundary
hedge zigzagged down the hill at right angles, and at the
bottom there was a little green annex--a sort of
powder-closet for the cows.